Beans & Rice is one of our core ministries; it’s the way we have been called to care for those in need in Tallassee and the surrounding community, and it’s vital to those who use it. Thank you for volunteering to support it by agreeing to act as a food shopper!
Here’s what you’re agreeing to do:
Before your shopping day
- Become trained in an orientation class at the Montgomery Area Food Bank, if at all possible before the first time you serve as a shopper. These are offered on the second Friday morning each month except December from 9:00 am until 11:30 am. In the class you will learn how shopping at the Food Bank works, what the procedures are, and how to check out after you have finished shopping. We shop in teams of two, and at least one of you should have completed the orientation class. The address of the Food Bank is 521 Trade Center St., Montgomery, AL 36108, and the phone number is 334-263-3784.
- Betty Weldon, who directs Beans & Rice, will send you a message a few days before you are to shop with a list of the items we’ve bought on “pre-order,” which include staples like grits, peanut butter, beef stew, macaroni and cheese, and Raman noodles.
- If there are particular items you need to concentrate on, Betty will tell you about them. Sometimes Betty may know we have plenty of green beans, for example, or maybe we’re running very low on soup.
- Make sure you have enough carrying capacity for the food you will buy. Most months it will fit into one full-sized pickup truck. If you don’t have a full-size truck, try to arrange between you and your partner to have enough capacity to match that of a full-sized truck. If you don’t have access to the necessary vehicles, let Betty know, and we’ll help you find it. Several church members have agreed to make their vehicles available from time to time to those who agree to serve as a Food Shopper.
On your shopping day
- You’re agreeing to serve as a Food Shopper once every six months. On the day you serve as a shopper, plan on working from approximately 8:45 am until 3:00 pm. Wear shoes, not sandals, and certainly not flip-flops. The Food Bank reminds us that every year people get injured when something drops on their toes at the Food Bank!
- Report first to the church and load up the banana boxes that we used last month to bring in food. We return those boxes to the Food Bank each month.
- Unless you have made specific arrangements with Betty and the Food Bank, your appointment to shop will be at 10:00 am on the Thursday before Beans & Rice distribution day. The address of the Food Bank is 521 Trade Center Street, Montgomery, AL 36108. You will need to report with your partner to the Food Bank about 15 minutes early so you can begin shopping promptly at 10:00. The first thing you do when you arrive is to get a number from the number dispenser on the wall to the left of the door. Then be seated and wait for your number to be called. This is a good time to use the restroom; the time you have to shop is precious, so you will want to avoid taking breaks during the hour.
- Whichever of the two of you is most experienced should know the ropes and be able to tell the other what to expect, where the key food items can be found, and the sequence that makes the most sense for shopping. In general the sequence is this:
- Get your number from the dispenser when you walk into the waiting room.
- When your number is called, go over the list of the pre-orders that the Food Bank has created, and make sure all the items on our pre-order list are on it.
- Look over the other items available and decide if you would like to add any of them to your purchase.
- Enter the store area and check in with the main desk attendant.
- Go to the frozen cooler and select what you need from the back. This is usually when we order the meat item or items we will be giving away. The right side is filled with items that need to be brought up from the back, and the left side is filled with items you can simply select and place on your cart.
- Now you are ready to shop in the main part of the store, where the canned goods, cereals, bread, and other foods are kept. Unless the supply of canned goods are low and you are limited in the number they will allow you to get, you should plan to fill five or so banana boxes with assorted canned goods.
- While one of you is shopping for canned goods, the other can walk around in the rest of the store and look for the items you think make sense, including enough bread for 60 households.
- When you have finished shopping in the store, you’re ready to enter the cooler.
- When you finish in the cooler, you will be ready to check out, first at the main desk of the store and then with the clerk (usually Jo Ann).
- We pay 18 cents per pound for most of the food we buy, which for most items is deeply discounted. The one exception is beverages, which pack a lot of weight and offer few nutrients. We avoid all beverages.
- You’ll be placing food on a cart that you can wheel around the store area. When you have filled up a cart, take it to the main desk and tell the staff it’s for Epiphany; they’ll weigh it and add it to your total order. Then you can get another cart and continue shopping.
- Use your good judgment. If an item seems appealing to you, it will probably be appealing to most of our clients, and vice versa. The one big exception to this is anything with pumpkin in it. Avoid any items with pumpkin as an ingredient. They are a staple at the Food Bank, but our clients simply don’t want them. They will sit on our shelf literally for months. So let us repeat this in the strongest possible terms: please! no pumpkin!
- Unless it’s a specialty item you know will have limited appeal, we shoot for buying 60 or so.
- Some of the items we try to buy every month are bread, peanut butter, potatoes, onions, eggs (when they’re available, which is seldom), canned vegetables, cereal, some kind of sweet dessert, and meat. Fresh produce is unpredictable but always fun when you can get it, and we have the refrigerator space to accommodate it. Beware of salad greens, which have a short shelf life and tend to be long in the tooth by the time they arrive at the Food Bank.
- Sometimes you’ll want to load all the perishable items in one vehicle, or break up your order in some other way. Just make sure that everything you load on one cart is going on the same vehicle, The loading dock folks need to load all the contents of a cart into the same vehicle.
- Our clients tend to have conventional tastes and preferences, so they’re likely to prefer the same food most people do in central Alabama. Cream of chicken soup is always popular; vegetarian lentil chowder, not so much.
- When you’ve finished shopping, report to the main desk, where they’ll give you a total for your order. Take that document to the office where you got your number, where the cashier (usually Jo Ann) will total up the money you owe. Sign for the total on our account with the Food Bank. No money changes hands at the time you shop. The Food Bank will bill us later, and Betty will pay it.
- Back up your vehicles to the loading dock, where the inmates will load the food. As they load, make sure you can account for the food items you and your partner selected; pay particular attention to the pre-ordered items. Usually, they’ll be delivered on a pallet on the loading dock or off to the side when it’s time for you to load up, so you’ll want to make sure that everything on Betty’s list is there.
- Return to the Little House with your food. You should have a crew available at noon to help. Feel free to stop on your way in and pick up something to eat at the church while the crew unloads your vehicles. You can join in when you finish eating. Stay and help unpack, sort, and shelve the food, a process that takes about an hour and a half when we have a full crew of eight working. Make sure you get the documentation on your purchase signed by one of the church members who did not shop, and then leave it in Betty’s box. On a typical day, you’ll be able to leave between 1:30 and 2:00 pm.
What to do if you can’t shop
We know things come up. If it’s your turn and you’re unable to shop, just make sure you get with one of the other shoppers and secure someone to take your place, remembering that at least one of you needs to have completed the orientation class. Then let Betty know so her records will be accurate.
After your shopping day
We encourage but do not require those who have acted as a Food Shopper to come and help serve the following Saturday. It’s always fun to see the food you selected flying out the door on its way to hungry families, and it’s a great way to get quick feedback on the good decisions you made. Thank you for serving as a vital part of this powerful ministry at Epiphany!